Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles

25 11 2008


Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles is a shonen manga by CLAMP, a collective of four Japanese women – Nanase Ohkawa, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi – who work collaboratively on art, writing, formating and character design.

The English translation of this title is licensed in North America by Del Rey – it’s rated T 13+ (Mild material. Suitable for all audiences, teenage and older).

Historically, the latest volume of this series will place within the Top 20 titles on the monthly BookScan listing of bestselling U.S. graphic novels (the 2008 archive can be found at ICv2.com). The series began publication in North America in 2004 and is ongoing.

Warning! After this point I want to talk about the narrative in way that contains SPOILERS!

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles is the story of Syaoran and Sakura, young sweethearts compelled to traverse time and space in an effort to rescue one another from an ambiguous threat from a mysterious villain with unrevealed motivations. The story transfers the role of active rescuer and emotionally inaccessible rescuee back and forth between the two characters through a series of plot twists of varying intelligibility. They are deeply devoted to each other and it’s complicated – both emotionally and in a time/space-continuum-convolution-made-worse-by-cloning sort of way.

While they are adorable, the question of whether Syaoran and Sakura will eventually save each other from whatever dread fate awaits them may not the burning question in the minds of many T:RC readers. Their traveling companions Fai (erstwhile secretive mage) and Kurogane (erstwhile stoic samurai) are described explicitly in the text as the “mommy and daddy”, respectively. They have been antagonizing/flirting(?) with each other throughout the series and their willingness to suffer on each other’s behalf grows more intense with each volume. It remains to be seen if CLAMP will make manga’s hottest interracial couple canon or end up dispatching one, or both of them, before anything can be consummated.


Up to this point Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles has succeeded as the attractive and imaginative episodic adventures of a party of charming and well designed characters. More recently the fun and buoyant series has turned very dark, complex and angsty and there is little end in sight for the grave and somewhat morbid tone currently being set. CLAMP’s ability to formulate successful lengthy and complex plots that are strongly character-driven has to be acknowledged. Interestingly, having reached the 19th (most recently translated into English) volume, very little has been revealed about most of the characters’ pasts but this doesn’t seem to have hindered audience identification. T:RC is an deft example of serialized storytelling balanced with a narrative ambiguity that has allowed CLAMP to introduce surprise plot developments and cliff hangers that have kept readers’ curiosity and investment at a sustained pitch.

The new Infinity Arc that started with volume 18 utilizes CLAMP’s collective skills to great effect with waves of terrain-smashing art deco influenced action lines and beautifully balanced double splash pages. CLAMP’s aesthetics and character design attain new heights of melodrama and visual hysteria as Syaoran furiously battles a svelte little cyborg and Fai loses it and trashes the place all Dr. Strange style in response to yet another shocking plot development.

CLAMP (w,i) and William Flanagan (translation). Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles v1(April 2004), English ed., Del Rey Books. ISBN-10: 0345470575



7 responses

25 11 2008
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25 11 2008

“It remains to be seen if CLAMP will make manga’s hottest interracial couple canon or end up dispatching one, or both of them, before anything can be consummated.”

…Y’mean like what they did to Seishiro and Subaru in Tokyo Babylon?

25 11 2008

I haven’t read “Tokyo Babylon” but if my understanding of the relationship between Seishiro and Subaru is accurate my answer would be – sort of.

Fai and Kurogane have a very different relationship dynamic from the tortured and complex stuff in “Tokyo Babylon”. My feeling is that they are more from the template of same-sex adventure friends that could easily be a couple but they never get together because gay couples aren’t really part of what the hetero-centric adventure genre is all about and it would just be too big a deal and make part of the fan base freak out.

In order to resolve these kinds of intense friendships without actually concluding with the characters in love and together writers often have something tragic befall one of them, the narrative assumption being that being dead is somehow better then being gay(!?!).

I’m not suggesting that every close, same-sex friendship should resolve itself as an intimate one just that sometimes it seems like the completely obvious conclusion. Watching so many writers go to extremes to avoid having to represent this outcome would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

26 11 2008
Izumi Miyano

I like the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle Images. You should put more Clamp manga on this website!`-`

22 12 2008

Great article, it makes me feel good that I’ve been following this series. However, your review was not spoiler-free, and your first image was a pretty big spoiler if you ask me. Saying that, it is wrong to include spoilers of series you’re trying to promote. A general plot outline will suffice.

30 12 2008

Thanks Oliver – and apologies – your comment is a valid one.
I shouldn’t let my enthusiasm for this series prevent me from being discrete about the plot. And that image was just, well, so pretty and effecting. Oh dear. Now there is an image of Sakura in a happier moment. Enjoy!
I do want to continue to talk about manga in way that addresses some of the deeper themes and complexities but in the future I will be more considerate of readers who don’t want any surprises ruined.
Thanks again!

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